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Hosts: Stephen Lacey & Katherine Hamilton
Guest: Dr. Peter Fox-Penner | Chief Strategy Officer | Energy Impact Partners
Category: ⚡Renewable Energy

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[3:36] “[In 2021] I was worried about the narrative that utilities were dinosaurs that […] needed to go away. […] [It was] the tail end of the era in which deregulation in the introduction of markets was thought to be kind of the be all and end all solution to all our energy problems. And at the same time, I saw that […] utilities were going to remain very, very essential players at the core of the transformation to a clean energy and a smarter energy ecosystem. So I was really out of sync with the thinking at the time. And it was also an era of stagnant to negative sales, which actually we are still in but we are now seeing the end of. […] Climate change wasn't nearly as dominant a consideration as it is now. Resilience was a little bit of an issue, but not nearly as big as it is now. And the smart grid and distributed energy […] were seen to be the real threats that we're going to take Out utilities and create kind of a deregulated decentralized distributed […] energy ecosystem.”

[6:53] “I did not foresee the pace at which climate change would intensify serious storms and all of what we might call resilience events. […] I really didn't look beyond a 10 year window at sales growth. And I therefore didn't talk at all about electrification and the upturn in sales demand that we're now on the cusp of a need to really intensify as one of the most difficult and important parts of climate policy. […] I did not expect the regulatory community and utilities to understand […] business model changes and I was surprised that many of them did that.”

[8:11] “Another thing I didn't predict is the progress that […] we would make on some electrification technologies, electric vehicles. Now the ones I'm driving […] are so much better and cheaper than I foresaw in 2008 when I started writing. […] So there are some things that moved faster and better than I foresaw. And a couple of things that are lagging, including […] the application of smart grid and smart pricing to all of our end uses is really moving quite slowly, compared to the potential that's there.”

[10:06] “I definitely come down in the camp of folks who think that we're going to need both an expanded big grid, […] as well as a greatly expanded base of distributed energy and smart grid and micro grids and localized solutions. And that really puts me at odds with many other folks in the field who really tend to emphasize just one of those. And I think, with electricity use doubling to tripling between now and 2050, as we really need it to do to solve the climate crisis. And that's not to say that we will electrify absolutely everything, but just to electrify what it looks like we really need to electrify including personal transportation and lots of industrial processes and lots of building heat, we're going to need much more electric energy. And we can get a good amount of it locally. And we should. But we can't get all of it from the distributed grid. I just don't see it. And therefore we need large expansion of the large scale grid. So it's definitely a hybrid solution. And making those two expansion paths mesh is really an interesting challenge.”

[11:47] “I think of electrification in three buckets […] that align with the three use sectors, transportation, buildings and industry. And there are, I think, different approaches are appropriate for each […]. Transportation is the one that I think is furthest along. I think we have seen most, if not all, of the major automotive companies in the world, commit to electrifying their production processes for light duty vehicles, largely speaking. […] The questions there have to do with the charging patterns, the evolution of the batteries, and charging infrastructure and driver patterns, and how autonomous driving is going to affect that over the next 30 years. And so it's less a question of are we going to have electric vehicles and more a question of what the charging tech and the charging infrastructure is going to look like.

[13:09] “For buildings, I am most worried about this sector. And it ties very much to the application of the smart grid to our residential and commercial building stock. We already have a housing crisis of the first order in our country, where people can't afford their rent along with their other basic living expenses. And on top of that, we need to take this already inadequate building stock, we need to make it more efficient, and we need to make it smarter. And we all need to understand that that takes upfront capital investment. […] So we need really visionary institutional change, to attack our building stock. And as we do that, we can make it efficient and smarter. We have the tech, but the institutions in the capital are really, really challenging.”

[14:16] “And then finally, in industry, I think this has to proceed on an industry by industry basis, because the degree to which you can electrify and how you electrify and merge that with other clean fuels, is very industry specific. Some industries like petrochemicals […] will electrify some of its processes but also need green hydrogen, and maybe blue hydrogen and other biosynthetic fuels to decarbonize. Whereas some industries will just move pretty much completely to electrification and won't need biofuels. And each industry has its own traditions, its own capital constraints, its own regulation, its own ecosystem.”

[38:56] “I agree that distributed generation and micro grids are absolutely essential parts of the future and their resilience benefits are economically essential. […] But I also want to note that that alone […]. You could put in a number of micro grids in the city of New Orleans, or the city of New York or any city and it's a good idea. You could not do it anywhere near the scale that would protect all vulnerable people. I think we have to think about resilience in more dimensions than just adding distributed generation and micro grids. […] I think we need to think about the reality that grids are going to get knocked down by severe weather events. And I don't think it's realistic to get independent resilience solutions deployed anywhere near as universally and quickly as we need.”

Rating: 💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 54 min | 🗓️ 09/14/2021
✅ Time saved: 52 min

Additional Links:
Book: Power After Carbon (Dr. Peter Fox-Penner, 2020)

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